Guest Opinions

This Idaho husband, father and grandfather deserves the same cancer treatment as anyone else

Chemotherapy being administered to a cancer patient via intravenous drip.
Chemotherapy being administered to a cancer patient via intravenous drip. AP

When it comes to my family, I’m truly blessed. Five great kids, 10 amazing grandchildren, a wonderful wife and life in Boise. Then, last fall, I discovered I had colon cancer. I followed the doctor’s orders and used the health insurance available to me through the Affordable Care Act to pay for treatments until I was prescribed an oral chemotherapy treatment. Our insurer at the time revealed it didn’t consider “all cancer treatments” the same. We were suddenly asked to pay much more out-of-pocket costs than expected. We were devastated and learned we’re not the only ones going through this in Idaho. We really need legislation to protect families like ours and individuals statewide who are being treated unfairly regarding cancer treatment coverage.

My doctor told me oral chemotherapy was the best treatment for the cancer I have. That would involve taking multiple pills and would result in a less than 5 percent chance of my cancer returning. Our health plan, however, would cover only a small portion of that. My doctor was upset and said my only other option was to do nothing and hope for the best as he felt intravenous chemotherapy was not appropriate for me. The insurance company, however, would not budge.

I put off treatment and agonized over what to do. We even pondered selling our home and living in our RV to pay for the higher cost sharing we anticipated with the oral chemo treatments. Through a unique set of circumstances, I was able to find a health plan that for now provides me with better coverage for oral cancer treatments. I’m lucky, but I know that even this could change down the line, and for many Idaho cancer patients, switching plans isn’t even an option. Without protections like parity legislation, we are left to face high cost sharing that puts oral cancer medications out of reach.

Idaho’s health care plans need to rethink how they’re covering life-saving cancer chemo drugs. Taking oral chemo pills makes sense for me and I can see where it would benefit those further out in rural areas who have access issues driving hundreds of miles to see doctors. It seems to me that whether you are getting a standard IV infusion of chemo or taking a pill, that these treatments are basically doing the same thing – hopefully stopping the spread of cancer. Why, then, are they not covered equally by insurers?

The issue is one of having fair and equal access to these medications. I’m not a doctor or an insurer, but I am someone who is a husband, father and grandpa. My family values my life and I think we have every right to demand our health insurance plans do so as well.

Rick Brown, of Boise, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017.